The Bridge of Nations serves as a reminder of the people who have migrated to this city from all parts of the world. The Scottish flag, the flag of St. Andrew, flies at the northeast end of the bridge. The Nova Scotian flag is not there, but many people from the Scottish diaspora on Cape Breton Island relocated to Sudbury
One of the industries on Cape Breton Island was coal mining, even more dangerous and less lucrative than the production of nickel, and Cape Bretoners could apply their skills here as well as there.
In 1928, residents of Copper Cliff formed the Copper Cliff Highland Band, which won the provincial cadet championship in 1970. Sudbury’s Cape Bretoners have sent relief money to Glace Bay and organized Gaelic-language classes. During the month of June, they have held an annual ceilidh with Highland dancing, “Down East” music, and Cape Breton movies.
Archie MacKinnon taught school on Cape Breton Island before he moved to Sudbury in 1936. Here he promoted the Gaelic language for the next half century.
When Scottish Highlanders and islanders arrived on Cape Breton, most of them spoke Gaelic. However, the language suffered a serious setback in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and by the time of MacKinnon’s move to Sudbury, Gaelic was disappearing.
A sign in the school house of Cape Breton’s Highland Village Museum says from the 1880s to the 1920s teachers are instructed to teach in English only. Children were often punished for speaking Gaelic in school.
Another factor was that some Gaelic-speakers discouraged their offspring from learning the language. Although they and their ancestors had spoken Gaelic since time immemorial, they believed English would be more important in Nova Scotia.
MacKinnon belonged to St. Andrew’s United Church in Sudbury, which until Church Union in 1925 had been Presbyterian. Most Cape Breton Scots were either Presbyterians or Roman Catholics, and Presbyterians had a reputation for being dour. Jokes, music, and fun had been anathema to the founders of Presbyterianism, Jean Calvin in Geneva and John Knox in Scotland. For generations, Scottish Presbyterians stayed away from music. The musical Cape Bretoners were Roman Catholics like the MacNeils.
Singer Rita MacNeil (1944-2013) came from Big Pond on Bras d’Or Lake. For some 30 years, members of the band The Barra MacNeils have entertained audiences in Canada and the United States with their vocals and instrumental music.
The Fraser family originated in Inverness, Scotland, a place where peaceful employment prospects were, at best, limited. Given the lack of options, male Frasers fought in various armies. In 1650 and 1651, Clan Fraser unsuccessfully opposed the triumphant army of King Charles’s adversary, Oliver Cromwell. At the Battle of Culloden in 1745, Frasers fought on behalf of Bonnie Prince Charlie, a French-backed claimant to the throne. Defeated, they joined the British army, and 15 years later some Frasers fought at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.
Another branch of the Fraser family left Scotland for Canada in the late 18th century. Several generations later, Anne Fraser of Sudbury – wife of the Rev. John Fraser, minister of St. James-in-the-Valley United Church – feels fortunate to be alive. Early in the 20th century, Anne Fraser’s paternal grandfather, James Bulloch, with his wife, Annie, and two sons, Malcolm and Jim migrated from Scotland to Cape Breton. Annie returned to Scotland to give birth to her third child. When they were to return to Canada, Annie and the boys missed their boat. Titanic had already set sail. Anne Fraser is Jim Bulloch’s daughter.
At the age of 21, Jim and his mother moved to Sudbury. Inco hired him as a stationary engineer, and he spent most of his working life at the Frood Stobie Mine. In 1964, Jim and his family returned to Inverness, Cape Breton for their summer vacation. There Jim’s daughter Anne met John Fraser, whom she married in short order and attracted to Sudbury.
John Fraser spent most of his working life in Sudbury as manager of the Sudbury arena. After retirement in 2003, he studied theology and became a United Church minister.
When Jim Bulloch came to Sudbury, he first lived with George Quigley, also from Inverness, Cape Breton. Quigley’s father and brothers were coal miners. He began to work there at the age of 15. Laid off in 1936 when he was 28, Quigley was heading for Brazil when he heard of job possibilities in Sudbury. He caught a train here, and Inco hired him right away. He worked for Inco for 36 years, first underground at Frood Mine on steady graveyard shift seven days a week for wages of 35 cents an hour. Before Inco’s 1958 strike, he became a shift boss and worked in open pit mining.
He made frequent trips back East. When on one such visit a brother invited him to tour a coal mine, he commented, “I cannot believe I ever worked in a place like that.”
Cape Breton promised a better future than the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland. In turn, Sudbury offered Cape Bretoners better opportunities. The Bridge of Nations serves as a reminder of the need for knowledge about the outside world for an understanding of Sudbury. Part of Sudbury’s history originates in Cape Breton Island.
Graeme Mount is a retired history professor.